The stairway was narrow and Lugh was concerned that he might strike his head on the low ceiling it at any moment. The flame from the torch kissed the stone above causing black tendrils to linger against the ceiling. There was no worry that he would lose his way however for the passage was as narrowly confining on the sides as it was above.
At first Lugh suffered a bit from the heat and smoke from Oatey’s torch and let her move still farther ahead. He almost felt panic, fearing the whole of the trip underground would be so confined and hot, but before his misgivings could blossom into fear the ceiling rose and he had relief from the confinement if not the dark.
The stair was set at the bottom of a great crack that continued to widen as they descended. Soon, whereas the torch flames had licked the surface of the stone ceiling early on, Lugh could not even see where the split rock faces merged above.
“Watch yourself here,” Oatey called, “The wall goes away for a bit.”
And on his left the stone fell away leaving inky blackness and a feeling of empty space. Lugh rested a hand on the comforting rock face to his right. “How far down does it go?”
“I don’t know and you don’t want to know,” answered Oatey curtly.
A stone finger rose between them and the abyss and Lugh relaxed. “That’s a relief,” mumbled Lugh.
“Stay tight to the wall,” snapped Oatey.
The stair ended on a stone floor that extended beyond the range of his torch. It seemed to be a broad shelf that continued on into the dark, falling away slightly as it travelled. Compared even to the stair only a few steps before the stone finger this seemed spacious enough for a village so Lugh didn’t understand Oatey’s agitated badgering to stay tight to the wall. “Is there a danger of stone fall?” Lugh groped for a reason for her attitude. He raised his torch and tried to get a sense of where the danger lay.
“Lugh!” Oatey shouted at him, “This way.”
Lugh turned and followed, compelled by an urgency and something else in her voice, as if she might burst into tears at any moment. The girl entered a passage fronted by stone portico that had been worked, cut beneath the general rock face, and so Lugh wondered again if it might not be that falling rock was the reason for her caution. Then why not say so? Lugh thought. Everything seemed out of proportion, but Lugh was forced to give his attention wholly to following Oatey who pressed on, rapidly leaving him behind.
“What is this place?” Lugh called, but she was too far ahead of him to hear, or was simply ignoring him. He struggled to keep pace. The hall he traversed was equal parts stone huen from the living rock and stone cut and dressed. The builders had used the cavern that nature provided, but had shaped it to their own comfort. Is that it? Is this a place where men lived?
He had lost sight of Oatey long since. Fortunately there had been only the hall with no side-passages or splits to offer him a misstep or the chance he might lose his way. At last he saw a doorway and light beyond it. The stone was carved and ornate and Lugh again thought that this must have been a habitation of men. But what a walk. I’d not like to do this hike every day of my life.
Lugh stepped into a large room that seemed brightly lit despite there only being a few lights burning. Oatey’s pack lay in the middle of the room and she was lighting lamps set against the white walls of the place. Is it plaster that shines so white or white marble? Lugh looked about him in wonder. “This is a remarkable place,” Lugh stated the obvious.
Oatey smiled, “It’s almost like home. I learned a lot here.”
Lugh gazed around noticing the reliefs incised into the walls and the mottos scribed above the four portals leading into the room. With a start he realized they were written in the Pan-Gaellic adopted by the Tuatha de Dana, the people of the goddess Dana, his mother. He would not have believed that there were inscriptions like this outside of Sliebe na Gael far to the south, but here was his native tongue. At least it would have been if Dana had got her way.
Lugh read each in turn beginning with the one he had just entered, “Rise through the dark to find the day.” Then he read, “Seek knowledge and find it’s fount within.” Directly across from the entrance where he stood he read, “Come and be refreshed.” Lastly, above the final doorway, “Here find the tomb of Eochaid the Ungiant.”
Oatey was looking at him strangely, “Lugh, can you read the Gaellic?”
“Certainly, it was the first tongue I ever read. Soon enough I moved on to the common tongue as there was much more written that was worth reading in that, but…”
“This is wonderful,” Oatey interrupted, “I’ve tried for years to puzzle out things that you can read with ease. Here is were all the knowledge I’ve used to defeat giants was hard-won. Lugh, you can unlock so much of what has eluded me.”
“How so? almost nobody reads Pan-Gaellic anymore. It’s nearly as dead as Dana herself.”
“This is an ancient place and much and more is written in the Gaellic. I’ve no idea why they chose the languages they did, but this place was made so that those who came later would have the tools to defeat the scourge of the giants. If my father had not found it, there would be nobody who knew anything about them or how to stop them. As it is, there is just me, and yet most of it I can’t even read.” Oatey walked to him and took his hands, “but you can.”